Friday, August 24, 2012

Review of The Last Policeman by Ben Winters (Quirk, 2012)

Hank Palace has achieved his life’s ambition to become a police detective in the small town of Concord.  Unfortunately his promotions coincides with news that Earth is going to be hit by 6.5 kilometre wide asteroid travelling at speed.  In the months before the coming apocalypse the economy has unravelled, some people have found religion, others are making plans to try and survive, or have given up work and are living one long party.  And some are not waiting to find out if humanity will survive and are taking their own lives.  One such man, an insurance actuary, has seemingly hung himself in a McDonalds’ toilet stall.  But Palace is not convinced.  The world might be about to end in six months time, but he’s going to continue to his job regardless of the general apathy and lack of resources.  And if foul play is involved, he’s going to make sure the perpetrator witnesses the event from behind bars.

The tag-line for The Last Policeman is ‘what’s the point of solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?’  It brings an interesting twist to the story, providing an unusual framing.  Otherwise, this is a straight up-and-down police procedural where Palace uses his skills and wits to piece together and solve a mystery puzzle.  The construction of the story is well done, with Palace being misdirected or led down dead-ends, slowly working out the reason for the death.  The characterisation is a little thin especially beyond Palace, suffering I think from the first person narrative, but it’s made up for in the plot and premise.  There was also more scope to explore the nature of a pre-apocalyptic society and elaborate some philosophical musings on the meaning of life and the human condition.  However, the premise is used much more as context, rather than as foil.  That’s fine, but I felt it was a missed opportunity.  Overall, an enjoyable, well written police procedural with a nice contextual twist.


Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for the fine review. I've heard in other places that this was a good 'un and I'm glad to see that you enjoyed it. It really is an interesting context for a plot.

Paul D Brazill said...

I like the sound of that!